Monday, August 20, 2018

Road Tripping: Charting a Path for Healthy Living

With summer drawing to a close, my family and I went on a road trip to the Pacific Northwest.  We stopped at houses of family and friends I've grown up with, and with friends I've developed over the last several years.  I love getting a mental snapshot of how others live, and this road trip was quite enjoyable.  A big take away for me was the healthy routines my friends follow.

For years I've been following research and anecdotes about the secrets of a long and happy life.  Over a decade ago, Dan Buettner started researching long-lived communities around the globe.  When he wrote The Secrets of Long Life for National Geographic in 2005, he showed how communities in Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Loma Linda, CA had the best health and life expectancies on the planet.  The article talked about their life choices, their commitment to community, their diets and their vigorous physical activities.  If you have heard of the Mediterranean Diet, you have Dan Buettner to thank.  He has gone on to write a series of books about healthy living based on his findings.  (To find out more about this, visit Blue Zones)

In the wine industry, The French Paradox made drinking red wine a healthy idea for Americans.  In 1991 on 60 Minutes, Morley Safer convinced Americans to drink more wine.  Drinking red wine is good for you my friend, and I raise a glass to this on a regular basis.  If a glass of red wine can make me live longer, what other secrets can I learn?  Scouring the internet today, a Thrive Global article spells out how being healthy will help you succeed.  From quitting bad habits to seeking out ways to be more active, the idea that practicing healthier habits will equate to personal success is quite compelling.  On my road trip, I was visiting happy and successful friends who were practicing healthy habits.

Learning about healthy living and personal success brings up the idea that healthy living isn't just about eating and exercising.  Having joy and purpose in your life is very important as well.  Harvard University has been running a 78-year-old study on adult development that has tracked how people feel throughout their lives.  Dr. Robert Waldinger, director of the study, gave a great TED Talk on it in 2015.  Key takeaways:  Being connected with your community brings you a lot of happiness and that quality relationships are very important to your personal happiness.

Healthy Living Lessons Learned on the Road

Wine Country Weekend:  Our first stop on the road trip was at the home of a good friend in California's wine country.  Over the years we have built a great friendship, and he's been a mentor of mine.  Visiting him for a few days gave me great insight into his daily activities, and I learned a lot about the life he has made for himself.
Connection with Nature:  Stepping into the backyard, I was so pleased to see a thriving, well-tended garden.  As a plant lover, I enjoy seeing what plants my friends are watching over.  A wide selection of pollinator-friendly plants, a beautiful water wise front garden and spots for reflection throughout the garden were evident.  This was a garden I wanted to spend time in.  And the wildlife that visited it were nice to see, including the mischievous squirrel who is pulling out the succulents in the garden boxes.
Healthy Activities:  Heading out for a hike in the morning, my friend hit the gym instead.  Doing strength training and stretches has become an important part of his daily routine.  Regular swims are part of the plan too.
Intellectual Curiosity:  Books, magazines, newspapers and notes were everywhere in his house.  A true interest in learning about new things and staying involved in current events was evident.  And in our conversations, he has a true interest in learning new things, sometimes delving deeply into a topic that especially catches his interest.
Healthy Choices:  Spending a few days in his home, I got to learn about how he stays healthy.  Some say that the secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.  Well, long life may just be the secret here.  A good cup of coffee, a nutritious, whole-food based meal and time to contemplate were on the menu for breakfast.  While avoiding sugar to reduce inflammation, a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meat and a glass of good wine were on offer throughout the visit.
Community Involvement:  Going into the visit, I wasn't sure who else I would meet during my stay.  With my friend's open door policy, we had plenty of visitors;  from the neighbor dealing with his wife's terminal illness, a wine buddy stopping in before a flight, to evenings spent with his close friends.  Going out on the town for dinner brought us together with people who had grown up with his children, young adults who had been coached in his soccer and basketball leagues and of course wine industry friends.

Willamette Valley Visitation  After saying goodbye, our next trip was up to Oregon to visit a former winemaker and Napa Valley College professor friend of ours.  Over the last few years, this friend has been inviting my family to his place in Napa to help with a winemaking project.  The family dinners we had afterwards with the entire crush team were the epitome of wine country living.  Enjoying good food and wine while dining in the vineyards with friends will always be the highlight of the harvest for me.   Recently my friend moved up to a small city in the Willamette Valley.  He and his wife are getting reacquainted to the area and are starting to get the lay of the land. 

Connection with Nature:  The house is perched atop a small hill, overlooking a forested greenway

leading to the creek.  Birds, deer and other wildlife are always visible from the house.
Healthy Activities:  After a morning walk the first day, the second day had me doing Qigong in their living room.  This was my first experience with this exercise, but it was so fun and relaxing.  My friends do this daily.
Intellectual Curiosity: Having retired to a college town in Oregon, the couple is regularly going to foreign films, lectures, and community activities.  A daily newspaper arrives, as well as the weekly installment mailing of their former Napa newspaper.  With these two educated friends, the piles of books, lists of podcasts and other publications are notably large.  And when an interesting topic is discussed, a deep dive into the specifics is quite normal.
Healthy Choices:  Early to bed and early to rise makes a man happy, wealthy and wise.  So true.  My friend gets up early, heads out for a pre-dawn walk, follows that up with reading before preparing fresh fruit and coffee.  Afterwards, a simple, nutritious breakfast is made.  A love of food and wine is evident in the standing trip to the Saturday Farmers Market, the selection of domestic and imported wines in the cellar and the preparation of homemade pizza for dinner.
Community Involvement:  Besides the intellectual pursuits, this couple is actively getting to know their neighbors.  Upon our arrival, my friend was hosting his neighbor while baking her a pizza.
Environmentalism:  A connection to our community can and does include a connection to the world as well.  My friend has one of the first Prius hybrids produced, 250,000 miles on it and counting.  Many of my friends on this trip expressed a concern about global warming and had made personal living choices because of it.

Next stop, Portlandia   My husband's cousin has been in Portland, OR for over two decades now, and this was a very convenient stop on our way up to Washington.  Having not seen the cousin or his family for several years, we had a lot to catch up on.  The couple is the same age as we are, so it was interesting to see their take on being empty-nesters and the choice to live in the city instead of the country.  The couple has 3 daughters in college.  They have recently left the suburbs to live in the city of Portland.  Walking to Salt and Straw for a memorable ice cream took about 15 minutes.  The hustle and bustle of the city was invigorating.  And the ice cream was amazing.  (I endorse the Pear and Blue Cheese flavor.  Olive Oil as well as Green Fennel & Maple were good too.)
Healthy Activities:  My hostess is an avid runner and Pilates practitioner.  Her husband gets in some form of exercise daily.  They are big proponents of the locavore movement.
Environmentalism:  My host is a director of a local nonprofit that is bringing affordable clean energy  to the Portland area and helping low-income families get affordable housing options. Driving a 100% electric car is quite practical for him in the city.
Community Involvement:  With their oldest daughter just returning from 2 years in the Peace Corps, working in Mongolia, I have to think they are actively engaged with their community and promoting community engagement with their daughters.

Northward to the San Juan Islands in Washington  My childhood neighbor moved up to
Washington many years ago and it is always a pleasure to visit both her and her husband at their house on on this small island.  The San Juan Islands offer breathtaking scenery and small-town living.  To get there, you have to board a ferry.  Once off the ferry, you are on an island of about 700 people.

Going to the island is always a highlight for me and my family.  Catching up on my friendship is effortless, and learning about how things are going with this couple and with their families is so important.  As this trip revealed, these friends too were making healthy choices for a happy life.
Connection with Nature:  Looking out the backyard the yards drops away to the water.  The view of the glistening water, a smattering of islands, as well as several birds, ships and clouds is jaw-dropping.  This is gorgeous country.  My friend's husband's work desk is upstairs, in the "crow's nest" of the house.  When he is not staring at the computer, he is looking out across the water.
Healthy Activities:  On this small island, the inhabitants have a community center where my friend and I did Zumba.  Afterwards we headed to the mainland for aerial yoga.  The aerial yoga studio was the same place my friend regularly goes for Pilates.
Healthy Choices:  After yoga we headed to the grocery store for fresh produce and dinner fixings.  Breakfast again featured my favorite thing, a strong cup of coffee.  Following that we had a healthy breakfast.  The couple has been following healthy cooking and Weight Watchers for several years and it has kept them feeling fit and healthy.  They definitely have found that being active and eating sensibly has helped them age gracefully.  Enjoying a glass of wine, beer or a cocktail was a welcome treat before dinner.  While they don't eat a lot of sweets, ice cream and cookies capped off our last night on the island.
Community Involvement:  I think it is nearly impossible to live on an island and not be closely connected to your community.  Walking onto the ferry with your neighbors, sitting in the ferry line with the friend across the island, to shopping at the island market, you are constantly interacting with your community.  My friend has also been active in bringing events to the community center and being involved in volunteer organizations in the area.

Birds of a Feather
The people you surround yourself with have a major impact on you.  Seeing the healthy choices my friends make leads me to want to adopt them.  If healthy habits lead to success, here's my roadmap to a healthy, happy and successful life:
  • Get out and experience nature.
  • Have quality friendships and work on them.
  • Have a healthy diet that includes a lot of whole foods, fruits and vegetables.  Lean meat or vegetarian options are recommended.  
  • Enjoying a good glass of wine with friends has been a recipe for success for generations.  
  • Get some form of physical exercise daily.  
  • Stay at a healthy weight.  Get on that scale once a week.  (Do it Wednesday morning.  Why?  Check out this article)
  • Get plenty of quality sleep.  Naps are great too.  
  • Get involved:  Help out your friends, neighbors and community.  Volunteer for a cause you believe in.  
  • Never stop learning.  Intellectual curiosity keeps us sharp.
Be healthy my friends.  Success is sure to follow.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Book Review: The Food Explorer by Daniel Stone

The Food ExplorerEarlier this year I stopped in for a book signing in Davis, CA at the Avid Reader bookstore.  Daniel Stone was talking about his new book, The Food Explorer:  The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats.  It was quite insightful to see Daniel Stone in Davis, returning to the town he spent his youth in.  His friends as well as his former farm employer were in attendance.  It was evident from the audience and his subject matter that his exposure to farming had a profound effect on him.  Writing a book about the man who significantly changed United States agriculture was a natural for Daniel.   
The Food Explorer is the story of David Fairchild, the botanist who brought new plants to the US for commercial propagation.  These introduced plants number over 200,000 and include the Meyer lemon, avocados, mangos, hops, vinifera grapes and many types of melons.  Additionally, some of our most cherished plants were introduced by Mr. Fairchild.  The flowering cherry trees that are celebrated in our nation's capital were a treasured, and politically charged, find of this botanist.   He also helped build and improve many of our commercial crops such as cotton, bringing improved strains of it from Egypt.  
This book does a great job of chronicling how David Fairchild became the nation's most important food explorer.  Daniel Stone tells how Fairchild stumbled into plant collection, found his footing in discovering plants, rooted new plants on our soil, and became a pillar of agriculture in Washington DC.  The story includes Fairchild's lucky meeting of a San Francisco bon vivant, Barbour Lathrop.  Mr. Lathrop took Fairchild under his wing and along on his worldwide explorations, all while financing Fairchild's work.  
Daniel Stone also tells about the inner workings of agricultural government agencies and the real problems the farmers of the late 1800's and early 1900's faced.  When Fairchild began his explorations, the US Department of Agriculture was a small agency.  While Fairchild's discoveries were growing, so was the size of the Dept of Ag, with the staff and offices exploding over the course of just a few years.  Farmers had been struggling with scant profits on their crops.  As Fairchild's discoveries took root here, so did isolationist views, and fears of introduced disease and pests.  This book puts that in great perspective, through the view of a plant scientist.  
Many areas of the US have been directly changed by David Fairchild's plant discoveries and propagation.  Florida and California were perfect climates to grow tropical and warm-weather plants that would have withered anywhere else.  His introduction of new varieties of grapes led to the success of the wine industry and the acres of beautiful vineyards we have today.  With his introductions, and successful farming, whole populations of American have been established in new US regions.  
Through his travels and success in plant introduction, David Fairchild was recognized as the most traveled man in the United States.  This gave him a great measure of celebrity.  He was invited to speak to influential groups and to publish his stories in National Geographic and other publications. He met President Theodore Roosevelt, married Alexander Graham Bell's daughter, and was friends with Orville Wright, to mention a few.  
Going to the book signing in Davis was fun for me.  When I attended UC Davis, I was one of the last graduates with a degree in botany.  Now botany has been renamed plant biology.  The average person doesn't know the impact botanists have had on the world around us.  Historically, botanists were included on explorations, asked to settle new colonies and worked to strengthen local environments with plants and their produce.  Having traveled around the world, I have always stopped in the botanical gardens to find out the discoveries and important plants in any country.  So, to read about the exploits and struggles that an early American botanist faced really brought all of my education and experience into perspective.